Today we had the pleasure of visiting with colleagues, faculty, and administrators from the University of Zurich and ETH. Both were very interesting experiences, as much because of the similarities between schools as the differences.
For instance, the academic standards seem to vary in ways because, for us, the first “cut” happens during the application process. For Swiss universities, however, that first “cut” happens at the end of the first academic year. Both are methods of ensuring quality students, but they work through very different mechanisms. A very neat PhD student at ETH mentioned that they have a version of our Graduate Student Assembly, dealing with similar issues and providing similar resources. But while our “GSA” serves Masters and PhD students, their “AVETH” serves all “scientific staff”, from PhD students to, essentially, full professors.
One big area of difference, however, was in how we treat student body populations. As I mentioned previously, I’m quite interested in diversity issues. Our system generally values folk’s “diversity qualities”, sometimes to the exclusion of other, more academic, characteristics. At both the Uni Zurich and ETH, according to our lovely hosts, there are not only no evaluations of these characteristics for either faculty or students, there simply seems to be no underlying awareness that these might be interesting topics to explore. It’s impossible to determine whether or not there are increases in minority categories because the metrics simply don’t exist. Interestingly, we did hear that it’s legal to ask someone’s age on an application, which is definitely not the case in the US!
Tomorrow morning (bright and early!) we’re off to the University of Strasbourg and then get to meet up with our University of Basel cohort! Looking forward to it!
(Also, please forgive any typos. We’ve been getting back from our dinners at 10pm, which is quite a bit later than this grad student is used to!)